As I age, reading list changes and adapts
Updated: December 30, 2012 6:33AM
CLARENDON HILLS — The older I get, the more I learn that my cherished beliefs need to be flexible and adaptable rather than unchanging.
For example, I used to be a true literary snob, eschewing popular fiction on principle and using the best seller list as a personal no-buy, no-read, no-acknowledge roster. My brain got all the mindless bubble gum-type entertainment it needed from television, I thought. Bubble gum reading was for the bathroom or beauty parlor in my cherished opinion.
Then a few years ago in the dark of winter, I re-read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for a book club. Though it was chill and bleak outdoors, Jane Eyre and I were in England. It was the middle of the 19th century, and a plain and penniless British governess began to fall for her dark and intriguing employer, an employer with a secret, the literal and proverbial wife in the attic. Jane Eyre is certainly a literary novel, flawed as it may be, and it is also a prototype for what would become the romance novel.
More than the romance, though, I became interested in 19th century England and started to pick up some historical fiction novels, works in my literary snobbishness I would have ignored before. Today, with the stress of having two teenagers, I enjoy both the escape and the landscape I find in historical fiction. I enjoy the mental vacation and learn something at the same time.
Naturally, books are always on my Christmas wish list and shopping list. Among the historical fiction I’ll be passing around this year is Ken Follett’s latest engaging historical novel Winter of the World, Book Two of the Century Trilogy. Cloud Atlas: a Novel by David Mitchell sounds interesting because movie critics struggled to relate the book and the recently released all-star movie. Also, Elizabeth I: The Novel by Margaret George is on my list because the author spoke at Books and Brunch a few weeks ago. Any of Philippa Gregory’s historical novels are always absorbing and informative as well.
Among the “literary” novels I’m looking for this year are The Round House by Louise Erdrich, a coming-of-age story set in the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. I will also buy Erdrich’s Master Butchers Singing Club, set after World War I when a German butcher marries the pregnant widow of his best friend. This was published several years ago, and I can’t imagine why I didn’t read it when it came out.
Apropos for a discussion of literary merit is Ian McEwan’s latest novel Sweet Tooth: A Novel, in which the British secret service wants a university student is to infiltrate literary circles in an effort to affect cultural conversations.
In nonfiction, I am getting Thomas Jefferson the Art of Power, the latest biography by Jon Meacham, who wrote so well and intriguingly of Andrew Jackson in the White house. There can be no doubt that I am buying Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. Having lived in Mumbai for three years, three years which challenged nearly every political, economic and religious cherished belief I’ve ever had, I am always looking for more understanding of that complex, overwhelming and fascinating place.
It is because of living in India and the three years in Thailand and the Philippines, that I found Half the Sky—Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide such an accurate overview of women’s plight in the vast third world. I am personally disappointed that this book hasn’t created the same kind of national buzz and fervor that the since-discredited Three Cups of Tea created. It is appropriate for any internationally conscious person high school age or older.